Cool Yule Rating: 5 stars
Price: $170 (plus $100 per year service)
Description: The handheld Spot device is a personal GPS tracker that can provide friends and family members with alerts and updates on the owner's location. When activated, the Spot can provide messages (via e-mail or text message to mobile phones) to contacts that provide the GPS coordinates for the device. Because the device utilizes the satellite network, this can provide details on locations where cell phone coverage doesn't reach, or in cases where a user's cell phone doesn't work (a dead battery, for example). The Spot has three modes of communication -- an "OK" button sends a message to contacts that the person is OK, along with a GPS location. A "Help" button is a nonemergency request for help --.useful for situations like when your car breaks down or that you've locked your keys in the car. The "911" button is used to contact emergency response officials (like if you've been trapped by an avalanche or are lost hiking). The OK button can also be used to help track the journey of the user -- when in Tracking mode, the device automatically updates the GPS location every 10 minutes for 24 hours, with the locations displayed on a personal Web site via a Google Maps interface.
The 911 button is like having auto insurance or life insurance -- you don't want to have to use it, but it's good to know that you have it if you need it. The added value comes from the additional buttons and modes -- using the OK button is great for letting contacts know that you have reached a destination safely (great for traveling parents or kids), and the Help button is good for those times where you might need some help but you don't want to call out the cavalry.
Users need to keep fresh batteries in the device (fortunately, the device will provide a low-battery warning), and they should know how to properly activate the 911 button (you'd hate for any false alarms to go off through no fault of your own).